MAKE WAY WHEN THE SUN’S SHININ’ – A CASE FOR UP AN’ AT ‘EM ON TRAIL

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MARK SIREK
MARK SIREK Administrator Posts: 296
edited April 1 in EXPERT ADVICE

Words and Photos by @Abby_Evans @abbigator53

It wasn't until a week into my Appalachian Trail thru hike that I realized the hikers that were able to do the most miles were typically waking up really early. (Or they didn't mind night hiking, but that just was not me.) When I started my day earlier, I was able to have more miles under my belt by lunch, and I felt more productive. Feeling more productive would make me happier, and it's easier to hike when you're happier. However, it took me a little while to figure this out.

THE DOWNSIDE OF SLEEPING IN

When I first started my hike, I would sleep in until eight or nine a.m., and then I would get out of camp around ten or eleven a.m. By the time I got moving, it was almost lunch! I felt sluggish from sleeping too late in the day. As summer began to settle in, midday was a hot time to start hiking. It's hard to motivate yourself to hike when you're sweating standing still. I was jealous of other hikers who got up early out of camp and started moving. When packing up the last of my gear, they were already miles down the trail ahead of me. Everyone hikes their own hike, but that doesn't mean you won't get jealous of people who are already done with the miles you've yet to do. Waking up late made me feel lazy and unproductive as if I was already behind the ball for the day. I had robbed myself of daylight to hike just because I went to bed late and slept in later. 

One morning, I realized that I had to start treating my hike more similarly to a job—or I wasn't going to get anywhere efficiently. The miles weren't getting any easier, so I had to change my approach to them. I had to start prioritizing my hike. I wanted to get the most beauty out of my thru hike possible, so why not put myself in front of as many sunrises as I could? I started setting an alarm to wake up at five a.m. and would try and hit the trail no later than six. This gave me the most daylight possible to hike. Sometimes, I would even get to watch the sunrise through the trees. 

THE UPSIDE OF BEING AN EARLY BIRD

Those early mornings are what I miss most now that I'm finished with my thru hike. The forest was quiet except for birdsongs. Morning dew made all of the ferns look vibrant and alive. Sunlight would stream in golden rays through the mist in between tree branches. Usually, I saw most of the wildlife on my thru hike in those early moments of solitude. The animals are more likely to come out when there are fewer people around. Red efts lined the trail most mornings in the middle of summer. Once, I almost ran into a moose in Maine before its giant figure slowly loped back off into the brush. Plenty of bears scurried away into the deeper woods. 

Early morning starts made me feel extremely productive. I was usually able to finish ten miles by midday. Before I even stopped for lunch, I was already halfway through my day! The way I saw it, if I was out in the woods to hike, then why not spend the whole day doing what I set out there to do? If I got to camp early enough, I could have time to relax, properly eat dinner without scarfing it down, and have time to chat and make new friends. This was a nice way to wind down at the end of a day, instead of getting to camp late and having to eat dinner in the dark and awkwardly cram into the shelter while everyone was trying to sleep. 

ROUTINE AND AFFIRMATIONS

Routine helped a lot with early morning starts. Most mornings, I didn't want to get up, but I knew I would be in a bad mood if I didn't. My morning routine began with some light and easy stretches that woke my body up. I would do hip exercises (it was an old injury I was still working through) while still in my sleeping bag. Then, I would try not to think too much about how I was getting myself ready to walk a ton. When I'm all cozy in my sleeping bag, the last thing I want to think about is how I would be suffering through an uphill climb in the next hour. I would focus on the little things I did every morning:

• Changing into my hiking clothes

• Deflating my sleeping pad

• Rolling up my sleeping bag

• Getting everything packed

• Eating breakfast and doing more stretches

One of the first things you should do is deflate your sleeping pad if you have an inflatable one. Nothing was more motivating for me to get up than lying on the cold, hard ground.

Morning affirmations were helpful as I began hiking for the day. They felt cheesy, but they made me feel stronger. I would tell myself, "I am an Appalachian Trail thru hiker. I accept what comes to me. I am happy where I am. I make the most of all situations. I am stronger than I think. I can do this." When you're standing at the start of a 2,000-mile hike, you need all the affirming thoughts you can get. 

The strategy of waking up early worked well for me, mostly because I just happen to be a morning person. Maybe you're not, and later hiking works better for you. However, if you're finding yourself to be demotivated to hike, changing something (like the time you wake up) might help get you out of your funk. You can't guarantee you'll love life all the time on a thru hike. You can guarantee it'll be hard and push you to your limits. When a living thing's environment changes, it must adapt. Trees lose and regrow their leaves, land-dwelling red efts change into aquatic, red-spotted newts, and toads bury themselves in the ground for the winter and reemerge. If your environment is getting more difficult, or is altered in some way—why not do what nature does? Try a change.


Abby Evans (Sh*twater Fireball Queen of the Salamanders) hiked the Appalachian Trail in 2023 and loves to write about gear and outdoor misadventures. They look forward to hiking the Pacific Crest Trail this coming summer and hope to triple crown before they're thirty. You can find them cutting their toothbrush in half, eating cold ramen and embracing the struggle on a trail near you! You can follow their journeys through their Instagram: @abbigator53.